Mar Menor & Cartagena, Spain
The post is overdue, I know, sorry about that. You know that the idea of “Seeking Fireflies” is about travel and inspiration. Well, unfortunately I can’t say that our lack of writing is due to an overwhelming influx of inspiration. No, just laziness, and not a whole lot of activity. But! We have had the pleasure of visiting some of our surrounding areas which include the Mar Menor and the ancient Roman port city of Cartagena (not the one in Colombia…).
Mar Menor is an inland lagoon south of Alicante on the Costa Calida. It’s 170 square kilometers of no more than 22 foot deep water. The lagoon is bordered by a thin strip of sandbar called La Manga that’s only 350 feet wide at it’s thinest. The lagoon water is flat, warm and a haven for watersports. The Mediterranean side has great beaches and swimming. So naturally you think, “Oh, there’s probably so much open space and it’s charming!”
But on the contrary. That little strip of land? It’s completely developed with high rise apartments and hotels. Oh, and do you want a full English breakfast? Yep, you can find it here! This is where the Spanish and apparently the English come to holiday. There’s very little that’s natural about it. I will say that it’s a great place for families, given that the lagoon is so shallow and warm.
On our wedding anniversary (hooray!!) we opted to surprise each other with separate activities. Jon took us to the lovely Calblanque beach down the coast of Mar Menor and I had opted to have us go kayaking on Mar Menor. The beach-going in the amazing natural reserve was beautiful and lovely. It was a Tuesday, but apparently that didn’t mean uncrowded beaches. I’ll tell you why in a bit. But driving up and down La Manga looking for the watersports rentals was not so lovely. Not that I’d ever thought about what a highly developed tiny strip of land might look like – now I know – Ew. And not that I’d ever thought about how to service the thousands of people that occupy this little strip – now I know, it’s a smelly, sewer-y prospect. Double Ew. Thank goodness Jon planned a nice day at the beach!
We also decided to visit Los Alcazares, the main town on the lagoon side. Again, I can totally see why Spaniards and foreigners alike go to these charming beachy towns, with long waterfront walks and beachfront cafes. But for us, the beach is crowded and we prefer the tiny, gentle and clear coves of the Mediterranean. Seriously, who wouldn’t?! I still want to go kayaking though. Or sailing, that would be nice too. We did end the day with a big bowl of ice cream, that even came with a sparkly “Date una Fiesta” poof on top – it’s as if they knew!
Oh and going back to the note about why the beaches are crowded. Interestingly, most Spaniards apparently have 2 residencies. One in the place they work, and a second shared by the family at the coast. Given that it is SO hot in Spain in August, the country essentially closes and everyone goes to the beach. We’ve been on both a Monday and Tuesday, and on one day, there were lines to go to the beach because the car park was overflowed. Wow. So much for those cozy private beaches. It’s not so bad – the Spanish are incredibly friendly, and…well, very attractive. It’s good people watching
Love. This. City. For the history lovers, this town is oozing with historical significance. Founded during Phoenician times and central to the Roman Empire (known as Carthago Nova – new Carthage), Cartagena was and still is one of the major naval ports in the Mediterranean (source: wikipedia). It’s also apparently one of the deepest ports in the world. Upon our arrival, we walked right up to the water, which is, because it’s an active port, a built-up approach. Thinking it’s a busy commercial place, one would figure that the water would be murky. But no, the water right in central Cartagena is perfectly blue and clear with little fishys swimming. It was so inviting I wanted to jump right in! We couldn’t believe how clean and clear it was.
Cartegena’s old city is welcoming and accessible, and the architecture is beautiful. Dominated by modernist and Art Nouveau-style facades, I couldn’t help but keep my eyes moving above me, barely paying attention to what was in front of me.
Cartagena is filled with Museums, mostly related to Roman and Naval/Military history. Thanks to the Tourist Office recommendations, we opted to visit the Concepcion Castle, with a fantastic 360 degree view of the city. It probably wasn’t the best activity to do at 12pm in the heat of the day, because we climbed the hill and arrived at the ticket desk dripping in sweat. The reception was fabulous and the gentleman at the desk helped us figure out how to get the most out of our visit and packaged 3 museums together for only 18 euros for the two of us. And the tickets were good for 2 weeks if we decided not go to to all of them! That’s a great deal. I love the museum packages, we could have seen 6 museums for something like 25 euros.
The castle museum itself didn’t actually have a lot to offer, but the audiovisual work that had been done was excellent and we learned a lot of history.
Next we headed towards the Roman Theatre – one of the largest outside of Rome. The museum there was apparently newly opened and of course I was thrilled to see that they have temporary and rotating modern art exhibits in the main entrance. I love the combination of ancient and new that I continually find in Europe! The museum is fantastic and walking around the theatre was great fun (despite the fact that the guard wouldn’t let us sit down in the theatre – it’s not like my bum was going to break it – it’s thousands of years old!!!).
Our final stop after a picnic lunch took us to the Roman Baths Museum. I loved this museum. The Museum management could have easily left this an outdoor-blazing-in-the-sun site, since it’s basically an archeological dig in the middle of a neighborhood. But instead, they built a very cool modern and open air ceiling with a mixture of steel and wood to compliment the ancient stones of the baths. Being able to see the floor foundations, original marble tiles, and even remnants of murals and frescoes was incredible. Great Museum totally worth a visit.
We had planned to stay for dinner, but since it was only 6pm, dinner would start until at least 10pm, and we were gross from the heat of the day, we opted for a siesta at home and tapas in Murcia.
Cartagena is only 45 minutes from us, and I can’t wait to go back and walk the city more just to be in what feels like a new and old uniquely Spanish city.